To create an effective blog and generate a steady online income, you have to spend a little money. This is something I wish I’d realised years ago rather than struggling using every second-rate free tool I could find. Some free tools are great, sure, we use many here, but the premium versions are often mind-blowingly better. Some of the plugins and tools below are free, others are premium and will cost you a few dollars. I’m not going to tell you to rush out and buy them all today because if you don’t understand why you need them and how you will use them, you probably won’t use them just yet. These are suggestions, the tools we use and love, bookmark it and keep it handy. I will update it regularly. Very new bloggers won’t even know that you need tools such as these, those with a little experience may be ready to switch to a top-end premium plugin. We hope you find this list useful in figuring out which tools and plugins you need to help with your WordPress blog and in growing your social presence and income.
Best Tools and Plugins to Help New Bloggers Grow
How Many Plugins Should You Have?
Use as few plugins as you can possibly get away with. Plugins slow your site and site speed is an important ranking factor. Premium plugins tend to be faster than free ones and Jetpack can be a major speed offender. So don’t go crazy with the plugins, keep it lean.
When Plugins Clash
Some plugins can clash or cause conflicts with other plugins or elements of your site. If something ” breaks” after installing a plugin, uninstall it to establish cause. The usual proceedure when you suspect a plugin conflict is to de-activate each plugin one by one, then re-activate until it becomes clear which one is causing the problem. Some plugins don’t play nicely together. Always go for a plugin that is recently updated, well maintained and tested on your version of WordPress.
To Switch Off Gutenberg
FREE. I don’t want Gutenberg at all. I know I’ll have to switch one day, but for now there is the Classic Editor plugin. I won’t link to free plugins here because the fastest way to install them is direct from your WordPress plugins page, just go there, select ” Add New” and type in the plugin name to see options and suitability.
Great Hosting and SSL Certification ( HTTPS) for Good Speed
I can’t recommend Site Ground hosting highly enough, they are by far the best we’ve tried, we find their customer support to be prompt, expert and free and right now you have another reason to move to Site Ground, they will move your existing http site to https with just one click. This service is also free, elsewhere you may pay for that SSL Certification.
Google are now saying they will penalise sites that don’t shift to https, so, like it or not, it’s time to move. Site Ground will handle the transfer from your old host and it shouldn’t cost you a thing. We’re in love with Site Ground, we’ve never had a problem they didn’t fix promptly. Their operatives also have lovely manners.
Site ground can also move you from wordpress.com to self hosted.
Just hop along to Site Ground using this link and have a live chat about your needs and what they can do for you. Establish what they include. Ask, chat to them. We’ve always found them great to work with.
UPDATE: This site is now with a premium, managed hosting company, Performance Foundry. I had no problem with Site Ground, they’re still superb and all of my other sites are still there, but this site earns enough for me to be able to pay them $125/month for a top notch product and a guy to manage my hosting needs for me. It was a very smart move and brought huge improvements across the board.
Need a Logo or an Instagram Manager?
Try Fiverr, I got both these things on this platform. Our logo, in 3 colour ways cost $15. I’m not saying it’s the best logo ever, but it’s done the job for the last 5 years or so. Try Fiverr here.
UPDATE: Social Warfare keeps running into problems and in March 2019 it was hacked. I’ve taken it off my site. Social Pug is the go-to social share plugin that will allow your Social Warfare settings to slide on over without losing all your designated social images, pin descriptions etc.
Obviously, I need to recreate this section with Social Pug information and screen shots. For now here is the link to Social Pug. It seems to do exactly what Social Warfare used to do and so far, no problems.
- You may have noticed a while ago that you lost most or all of your Twitter shares from your existing Social Shares plugin. Social Pug can get them back for you and will keep them safe when you move from http to https.
- Social Pug is fast, looks slick and is packed with top-level options.
- Social share buttons can be static at top or bottom of your post and can also float with your reader’s scroll at the side.
- You can specify designated images for social media and for Pinterest, no more defaulting to your featured image. You can set a Pinterest description that includes all your hash tags and keywords.
- You can also pimp the standard Tweet from your Twitter share button, adding hashtags and killer hooks.
Backup With Blog Vault
For 5 years I’ve had no backup at all other than my host’s and never had a problem. I’ve just bought and installed Blog Vault because it’s recommended by my host. It’s under $100 per year and ultra simple to set up. Affiliate link to BlogVault here. I can’t say if it’s good or not, it’s one of those things you expect to never need, but if Performance Foundry recommend it, I do as they say.
Pinterest Scheduling: Tailwind or Board Booster
Pinterest have announced that we MUST NOT USE BOARD BOOSTER which caused Board Booster to shut down.
So I went back to Tailwind.
The first time I tried Tailwind it was slow and buggy, absolutely useless, so I quit and refused to use it.
After the demise of Board Booster ( Hand pinning is far too time consuming) I was forced to give Tailwind another try.
Pinterest traffic has grown since joining Tailwind again and using Tailwind Tribes, but I’m not thrilled with it.
Tailwind is now not slow for me at all it works great. I don’t know what happened. Tailwind is almost a part of Pinterest. It’s not just a scheduler, it also gives you far more detailed analytics than Pinterest’s own analytics. You can join sharing groups, set up looping, it has many features. Pinterest have stated publically that there is no advantage in hand pinning over using this sceduler. Pinterest has also said that sustained daily pinning at a constant level, ideally fresh pins, is what you need to do. I can’t pin daily without this tool. Sign up here.
Free trial of 100 pins.
Tailwind will give you a free trial.
Keyword Research Long Tail Pro or Keysearch is no Longer 100% Necessary
This is something I know and love and will talk about with endless enthusiasm. I love my Longtail Pro and for me it is still my favourite tool for Keyword research.
There are other KWR tools including SEMRush, Keyword Planner, Keyword Explorer etc. Most are expensive to very expensive. 2 ideas below are free.
FREE. You don’t absolutely need a paid keyword research tool so much these days. Almost everything you need is available for free. Even Google’s own search results and Search Console directly display search volume and keyword competition data once you have the Keywords Everywhere browser extension installed.
Search Console itself is a very useful tool in planning future keywords and getting an idea of search volume for that keyword. You absolutely must spend some time getting super familiar with your Search Console.
Keyword research is the thing everyone asks me about because nobody seems to understand it.
I find it absolutely essential, particularly when trying to make money from new blogs with lower DA ( domain authority). The trick is to find a keyword ( a keyword isn’t necessarily 1 word, it’s a phrase, a so-called long tail keyword, 4 words plus) that receives a decent amount of searches in Google, but that hasn’t been used by all the top-level blogs and websites.
Tools such as Long Tail Pro and Keysearch give you search volume for your chosen keyword and, at the same time, give you a score as to how competitive that keyword is. The lower the score, the more chance a smaller site has in ranking for that term.
I’ve tried Longtail Pro and Keysearch, they both do the same thing, the price is similar, I personally prefer Longtail and use it myself almost every day. If you’ve heard Longtail no longer works, that’s not true, it’s actually better now than it ever was. I’m an affiliate for Long Tail Pro, I could just as easily be an affiliate for Keysearch, I like Long Tail better. Click through here to give it a try and get a discount from us. I pay $25.90 per month for Longtail on a month by month basis, $18 per month on the annual plan. Prices vary.
These tools are great but they’re fairly expensive. Only invest if you’re serious about generating traffic and income through SEO. It’s easy to destroy your love of blogging by taking tactics such as these too seriously. I don’t research the keywords for every post, some I write out of love purely because I want to document and share that time I hiked to Tengboche with D or an amazing guest house we stayed in and want you to know about. If you take blogging too seriously it (and your blog) becomes boring and a chore, and none of us wants that, right?
That said , if you want to make money you absolutely MUST get into Keyword Research.
Struggling to Come Up With Keyword Ideas?
Check Your Domain Authority
FREE. Check your Domain Authority here. DA updates roughly once a month and is an approximate indicator of your site’s authority. It is a score out of 100, the higher the better.
You can find out when the next DA update is due here.
Easy Placement of Ads of Any Kind Throughout Your Site: Advanced Ads
Advanced Ads changed how I thought about Adsense completely. I started out hand coding single adsense ads into individual posts, it was time-consuming and I was only making cents per day. A blogger friend told me about Advanced Ads years into my blogging career and bang, huge income increase. The Advanced Ads Pro plugin allows you to place ads ( for anything, not just adsense) in every post and page of your blog from a single interface. You can choose each advert’s location and exclude certain categories or individual posts should you choose to. Immediately my Adsense income skyrocketed and was my biggest income for quite a while.
Make Money from Amazon Internationally
We no longer recommend Easy Azon for this, we use Amazon’s own free localisation tools. This means we can’t localise for Australia so we have to insert links for Australia separately.
Amazon localisation is absolutely essential for localising your Amazon links ie. make money from more than 1 country’s Amazon
This allows me to make money from Amazon UK, USA, Canada, Europe etc. Simultaneously. It also makes Amazon advert creation super easy and guides you through the process of registering as an international Amazon affiliate.
UPDATE : I’m in the process of switching back to Amazon’s own, free, One Link system on some pages. The only major drawback is that Amazon Australia in not yet available on One Link for link localisation. I’m monitoring the two types of link using tracking codes to see which works best for me. Easy Azon Pro does now include Australia.
Collect Your International Amazon Earnings: Payoneer Card or Transferwise
A Payoneer account and card is ( was) the only way ( Update: Transferwise now do this too) to access Amazon affiliate commissions from countries other than your own, generally, other than cheque by post or non-transferable Amazon credits.
Your earnings are sent directly to your Payoneer account, from Amazon USA or from other affiliate schemes, you can then use the card as you would a pre-paid debit card. I’ve used it in the UK, Thailand, Australia and Romania, I’ve had no problem with it being accepted. Apply for your Payoneer account and card it’s free up front, you only start paying the small annual fee once you start earning.
We still use our Payoneer card daily but more and more we’re switching business and travel transactions to Transferwise. We collect payments on our Transferwise account and use it for travel money. A great way to access money while you travel is with a Transferwise Borderless account. This account lets you have £200 or $250 free cash withdrawals a month and has low upfront fees. It is a multi-currency, multi-country account available to everyone. Check out how good the Borderless account would be for you here.
A Graphic Design Tool to Edit, Create and Manipulate Images: Canva or PicMonkey
I use PicMonkey, which was free in its basic form and I find it great for all my image editing needs. I have the paid upgrade PicMonkey Pro or Royale . It’s a cheap tool and one I use and need every day. I also use Adobe Spark Post.
Others prefer Canva, which can be linked to Tailwind for creating pins directly.
If you have Photoshop, of course you can use that. I know and love PicMonkey, so I’m sticking with it. I think that if I was starting out I’d possibly try Canva, but I’m very happy with PicMonkey.
For editing images on your phone get Snapseed. You won’t regret it.
Video Editing Tools For Bloggers
We own and use several. They have strenths in different areas and one is good for one job, another for something else.
- Cyberlink Power Director
- Lumen 5
- Filmora Go
A Tool to Reduce Image Size: Kraken Image Optimiser and/or WP Smush
Big image files slow your website. A plugin such as Kraken automatically reduces file size for each photograph you upload to your site, helping your site stay fast.
WP Smush plugin is free in trial form and allows you to retrospectively compress 50 images from Media Library per shot. On a big site like this one, with 3,000 images, that’s not practical, but the 14 day rial allows you to bulk Smoosh the whole lot. Running Kraken and WP Smush together DOES give better image compression.
Monitor Your Site Speed and Improve it, Google Page Speed Tool and Pingdom.
It’s vital to have a site that loads quickly as page speed is one of Google’s ranking factors.
Plugins to Improve Page Speed
WP Optimize, Autoptimize and Async Java Script, WP Rocket are three tools to speed up your site without code.
WP Optimize optimises your Word Press database, this includes removing all old spam comments and post revision data, it cleans it up and makes a big difference to page load speed in just a few clicks.
Autoptimize and Async Java Script minify Java Script and CSS files.
Make sure your site is cached on all levels and get Site Ground to add the code to Leverage Browser Caching.
If you possibly can, go for the best hosting. We pay a lot for managed hosting these days ( $125 per month). Site ground are fantastic, but our premium hosting was a good investment.
If you need more on improving site speed take a look here.
A Plugin to Display Related Content
You’ve seen a ” Related Posts” section at the end of most blog posts right? Well that’s generally done with a plugin.
The reason we use them is to help make our sites more “sticky”, to keep y0u, the reader, here longer.
We used YARPP ( Yet Another Related Posts Plugin) for years, it looked great but slowed my sites down. We’ve now switched to Related Posts for WordPress. You’ll see that at the end of this post.
A Table of Contents Plugin (TOC)
A table of contents is there to boost SEO. It can also enhance user experience. Mediavine have stated that they may reduce ad revenue as scrolling time is vastly reduced. I use one on some, only some, longer pages to help people navigate. There is one at the top of this page and it’s a premium, paid tool. I tried the free ones and couldn’t find one I liked.
A Tool to Generate Tweets Around the Clock
FREE in basic form I’m rubbish at Twitter, absolutely hopeless. Twitter normally brings me about 10 clicks per day, compare that to up to 700/day from Pinterest. I don’t get it, I don’t enjoy it, but I’ve tried a lot of tools to improve my Twitter traffic.
Since installing Tweet Wheel my Twitter traffic rose 300%, from 10 a day to 30 per day. Still terrible, but it’s an improvement. It’s worth you taking a look at if Twitter just isn’t where you want to be.
Tweet wheel automatically retweets all of your old posts, right round the clock. You can add hashtags, but they will be the same for every tweet.
You can exclude posts by age or category and set your own time interval. I figure that if somebody clicks through to my site from Twitter, they must really be interested, so that 30 a day is worth having.
If anyone can tell me how to not suck at Twitter with minimal effort, I’d love to know.
Update: Tweet Wheel caused a conflict with Easy Azon, so unfortunately it had to go. There are plenty of similar plugins to generate Tweets from old posts, but on the whole Buffer is a much better way to manage your Twitter content generation. Hootsuite is, in my experience, expensive and labour intensive.
FREE for 10 Tweets queued at a time. Absolutely, in my experience, THE best free tool for scheduling Tweets. You can hover directly over one of your images on your website and Buffer will create a Tweet out of it. Nice pictures are winners on Twitter.
I’ve tried it free and paid, for $10 per month it stored up to 100 posts in my queue. It was fantastic and it won hands-down over Hootsuite Pro. I also used it for my Facebook business page and groups. But, I’ve found something way better for 2019
THIS is the social media scheduling tool you are looking for!
I still use the free version of Buffer to create tweets, it’s great for that, but now all of my facebook pages, groups and twitter accounts are scheduled through Smarter Queue.
You can also used it for Linked In, Pinterest, Instagram etc, but I only have 5 accounts linked up. Give it a free trial for 1 month here and see if you like it. I’ll bet money you’ll LOVE it. I’m a little concerned that there may be issues, I’ve heard of people going to Facebook jail for using Smarter Queue, but for me, so far, it’s been fine.
Something to Handle Your Subscriber List and Send Out E-Mails and Autoresponder Series
ConvertKit, MailChimp and MailerLite are the 3 I’ve tried. These two are free to a cut off point of around 1,000 subscribers. ConvertKit is expensive, after trying it for a few months I happily returned to Mailer Lite – that says a lot!
WordPress SEO by Yoast
I think most bloggers run Yoast. It’s a handy reminder of those SEO factors you may have skipped in your post. For instance, if you forgot to fill out your alt tags, or didn’t use your keyword in a subtitle, maybe you forgot to add a meta description, it will let you know. Find the Yoast SEO plugin here. It’s more than this, it’s a really useful all-round SEO tool, but don’t take it too seriously, stick with your own writing style.
I recently upgraded to Yoast Pro. I’d ased if Yoast Pro was worth it many times and most people will say it’s not. Surprisingly, I love it. It’s a great tool and is proving enormously helpful in sorting out the SEO mess I made with my older posts. It handles redirects when that old url is just so useless that it has to go and shows me which posts I forgot to internally link to. To me it’s well worth having, but is it essential? Not if you’re on a budget.
Caching. You Need Caching!
A fast website ranks better in Google and caching helps with this. If you’re with Site Ground they have their own caching plugin and will handle it all for you. If not, the simplest caching plugin I’ve found is WP Fastest Cache. If you don’t really know what you’re doing, avoid W3 Total Cache, it’s a nightmare to set up and was way beyond me.
Find and Fix Broken Links
A Free Plugin to Check Load Speeds and Performance of All Your Plugins
If you run this free plugin now and again you can see which plugins are slowing down your site and think about replacing them. Jetpack is really bad for slowing things down, get away from it if you can but double check you’re not using any of its features first. Take a look at P3 Plugin Performance Profiler
The first time I’ve run P3 in a year or so. Wow I need to get rid of Jetpack! I don’t think I even use it.
Changed Your Social Media Image but It’s not Showing on Facebook? Facebook Debugger
I use this all the time, totally free and an instant way to change the way Facebook displays your posts. Find Facebook Debugger here.
For you, for Pinterest
So, my lovely new blogger friends, is this helpful? It’s great for me to get some feedback, if I’m not telling you what you need to know just ask me in the comments or in our private Facebook group, Living Differently. What about you, any useful tools or plugins you think we should all know about?